This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. (Daniel 4:17)
Suffice to say, a minority of diligent observers of this year’s election thought that Republican nominee Donald J. Trump would actually win. I was one of those in the stunned majority as I watched the returns on Election Night. My predictions were way off. According to all the data I looked at, it seemed as though Hillary Clinton and the Democrats had this in the bag. But that’s not how it turned it. When I wasn’t busy looking up recipes for crow, I was looking at the returns in several States to see how close it was. Regardless, it was obvious that Trump was going to be our next president.
The day after the election was a moment for reflection. I didn’t say much of anything on social media. I mostly shared the thoughts of others who had profound reactions to what happened. It was good to wait about a week before spilling any ink about this. Sober reflection was necessary. Reacting emotionally is never a good thing at all, though it’s all too common in our day. I’ve had enough time to digest everything and so I wanted to give a few thoughts on this year’s elections as well as where this leaves the church.
Who Won in 2016?
For many people who claim the name of Christ, this was reason to celebrate. The dreaded election of Hillary Clinton had been avoided and it seemed like there was some kind of conservative resurgence taking place. But while Clinton was decisively defeated, it’s definitely not true that this was a victory for a conservative philosophy and certainly not a win for the Christian worldview. In fact, secular humanism was going to win out regardless. Both Trump and Clinton are cut from the same cloth in that respect. I’m told that Trump’s victory speech on Election Night was the first in history which contained absolutely no reference to God whatsoever. Of all the persons to thank, the sovereign Lord who ordained his presidential victory didn’t make the cut.
Looking past the presidential race, consider the fate of various ballot measures across the States:
- in several States, minimum-wage hikes were passed
- by a whopping 2/3 vote, physician-assisted suicide passed in Colorado
- gun control measures were approved in three States
- a right-to-work amendment was defeated
- marijuana was legalized in eight States
Nothing listed above indicates that we are headed in a conservative direction, although the death penalty was upheld in three States (praise God). To be sure, there’s a case to be made (per the marijuana issue) that possession laws are without biblical warrant and I tend to agree. However, I doubt any of these moves to decriminalize said substance is motivated by a desire to have a more biblical way of dealing with drug abuse. Given the general trajectory of the culture, it’s clear people are voting in favor of license. They are also voting for a culture of death and an increasingly statist regime. The more I look at the broader picture, the more ridiculous it seems to me that some of my Christian friends were celebrating (and even gloating about) Trump’s win.
For the Republican Party, the narrative going forward is going to be something like this: “See? We didn’t need a candidate to champion issues like abortion, marriage, and religious liberty in order to win. You Christian conservatives were just dragging us down.”
Seriously, this is going to be the establishment’s set of talking points moving forward. They’ve long wanted those issues off the table and prefer to tuck them under the rug, hoping they’ll go away. And Trump will ensure that happens. While some people will wax jubilant over how great the GOP platform is, the aforementioned issues will be put on the back burner (as they always were before) and we’ll hear little to nothing about them. The death cult of abortion-on-demand will continue as it did before, marriage will continue to be profaned, and Christians will continue to lose their religious liberty. As painful as it is for some to accept this, it’s clear that our issues did not win. A decidedly Christian worldview was already defeated in the primary season. Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.
Considerations Moving Forward
Though I’ve painted a fairly pessimistic view of who really won on Election Day, I sincerely hope I’m wrong. I pray that major changes will happen in the first one hundred days Trump is in office, to include some major move to cripple the abortion industry. Will that happen? I’m doubtful. But I’d love to be proven wrong. Those who went out of their way to help get him elected need to apply an immense amount of pressure on his administration to follow through with those lofty promises which were made. I fear that too many Christians are prepared to go back to sleep for four years, content that a Republican is in the White House, and not hold the new president accountable. We don’t need to repeat the George W. Bush years.
The Republicans will have control over the House, Senate, and the White House. There will be no excuses. All throughout the campaign season Christian voters were told, “don’t vote for the man, but for the platform.” And sure enough, Evangelical support for Republicans was at an all-time high this election. Assuming those Christians did vote for the platform, what’s going to happen when that platform is tossed to the side and disregarded completely? Who among us is going to challenge the GOP leadership to address those issues? Right now I don’t see anyone who would do so. The last remnants of the “Christian Right” helped get Trump across the finish line, but I don’t see him returning the favor. Remember, brethren, we’re dealing with a life-long covenant breaker.
As it pertains to God’s kingdom, what does the future hold for the people of God in America? In my humble estimation, the church as a whole wasted precious capital promoting, defending, and arguing for Donald Trump. To the watching world, American Christians abandoned values and principles in order to shill for a man who openly makes a mockery of those same values and principles. The witness of the church has been so thoroughly damaged by this, I have a hard time pondering how long it will take to recover. Millennials have already left the church in droves and this will only exacerbate that trend. Trump’s race-baiting has certainly deepened the racial divide, even within the church. Think about the burden this places on church-planters in areas where minorities are predominant.
Right now, even before Trump officially takes office, it behooves Christians to distance ourselves from this man as much as possible. We need to see him for who he is. Trump is just another pagan ruler under God’s ultimate authority who may (or may not) show grace to the church. We are duty-bound by Scripture to pray for Trump, show him the honor that is due his office, and obey his lawful commands. But where he asks us to do things which go against God’s law, we are to disobey his commands. We are not to comply at that point. We should never give Trump a pass to go against the Word of God simply because he’s a Republican. Where he goes astray of God’s standards, he must be openly (and respectfully) rebuked by Christian leaders. As the church, we have an obligation to speak truth to power. Love of God and neighbor demands we do nothing less.
From my perspective, the 2016 elections were used by God to reveal just how utterly sick His church really is. That’s probably the most important observation I can give. The visible church in America is in absolute shambles. It’s not even about putting a check in the box in terms of having good theology. Even those who have solid theological foundations proved that very few actually put that theology into practice. I saw an overwhelming number of believers fear Hillary Clinton more than they feared God. I saw Christians use some of the absolute worst arguments imaginable in order to justify supporting Trump. I saw a movement of Christians–a movement which once defined itself in large part on the importance of character–totally ditch any meaningful biblical standards on character in order to back the Republican nominee.
When my wife and I woke up on November 9th, we mourned. And we didn’t so much mourn for the state of America so much as we mourned for the state of the church. In many ways, we would have been better off had Clinton won. I know that’s anathema for many people when I say that, but it’s true. The prospect of a Jezebel-like leader taking the helm would have kept the church awake. It would have provoked a spirit of repentance (or so I would have hoped). Perhaps–just perhaps–having Hillary in the White House putting pressure on the church would have been the ultimate lesson in not putting our trust in political candidates or parties. Instead, my Facebook feed that morning was filled with the rhetoric of fellow Christians drunk on the euphoria of a Trump win. In the wake of that result, there will be no biblical self-examination. No repentance. Is this not the judgment of God, not just on the nation, but on the church?
I trust that there’s a remnant within the American church which will not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, something I saw quite a bit over the past year. There will be a remnant within the visible body which will not be manipulated by emotion or driven by fear. It will also be a remnant which will not compromise for the sake of political expediency–a remnant that knows what it means to play the long game. The vast majority of Christian leaders today in America don’t understand that at all. They’re thinking about the next election instead of the next generation. For decades, they’ve put the cart before the horse, forgetting that politics is downstream from culture. This lack of forward thinking is sustained in large part by dispensationalism, radical “two-kingdom” theology, and a pietism that has proven deadly.
Frankly, I have no idea what Trump will be like as president. I suspect the worst coming from him, but I pray that I’m wrong. If the protests in the streets are an indication of anything, then it will be a rough four years regardless. America is Balkanized and the polarization will only get worse. The great test will be how the church responds to all of this. There’s a lot of damage to repair and a lot repentance needs to happen. Reformation within the church necessarily precedes a revival throughout the land. Judgment begins at the household of God and we will never regain our prophetic voice in this culture until it does. This isn’t a time to celebrate. This is a time to reevaluate ourselves in light of Scripture: individually, as families, and at the congregational level.
Will this happen? Only time will tell. I will be prostrate before the Lord, seeking His favor to bring these things about. We have a very sick church in our land that needs the help of the Great Physician now more than ever. Christ is the head of His church and He sovereignly rules over the nations. Like all the rulers of the nations which came before him, Donald Trump is obligated to kiss the Son. Pray for him that he would do so, that he would be saved and govern according to God’s standards. May the Lord have mercy upon him and give such common grace unto America.